We call upon the government, devolved assemblies and other relevant bodies to undertake the following actions as the pillars of a coherent and ambitious future soils strategy.
1. Long-term Strategy
Introduce a nationwide soil protection and recovery programme, underpinned by statute, that places soil at the heart of the UK and devolved governments’ environment policy - alongside that of air and water - and as an integral part of the 25-year Plan for the Environment.
2. Economic Evaluation
Invest in the tools and methods needed to evaluate in economic terms the societal and environmental benefits of healthy soil, as well as the consequences of reaching a soil degradation tipping point.
Ensure that these benefits are identified and recognised across Government policy in all sectors and that the benefits of healthy soil are effectively and widely communicated.
i. Develop and implement local- (e.g. landscape, catchment) and site- (farm, forest, contaminated land etc) based regular monitoring:
a) To identify whether soils are degraded, are being lost, are in good health or might be described as organic, what the consequences are and what remedial measures are likely to be feasible where soil is becoming degraded.
b) To inform current and future land management practices, such as the need for nutrients and other inputs.
ii. Instigate and repeat at a minimum 5-10 year intervals, a replicable system of soil monitoring across the UK.
iii) Integrate modelling, monitoring and data related to soil, water and flooding where these overlap.
iv) Refine and establish national data and monitoring standards and protocols for soil monitoring.
v) Develop and implement appropriate training, education and tools to aid those who will be involved in soil monitoring, such as farmers, other land managers and advisers, and soil scientists.
4. Pollutant reduction
Create a coherent nutrient pollution-reduction strategy for agriculture (linking soil-air-water) that includes emissions targets. Disseminate the benefits to farmers of alternative approaches that reduce reliance on high agrochemical inputs.
Introduce a robust regulatory framework and a scheme of incentives that will:
(i) discourage practices that cause or contribute to soil degradation and associated impacts (e.g. flooding and damage to rivers), and
(ii) encourage practices that will deliver soil recovery and good soil management including agroecological, organic and other appropriate approaches.
Ensure there are sufficient resources (funding and people) to enforce regulatory breaches, advise and implement incentivisation schemes.
6. Innovation & Tools
Promote and disseminate innovative technologies for soil improvement and monitoring including a joined-up laboratory network, smart applications, remote sensing and open source data. Develop a framework for continuous knowledge exchange and co-operation between research and land-manager communities with a focus on farmer-led research.
Review and update Agricultural Land Classification Maps which can then be used to steer on-the-ground land management practice and demonstrate what land can sustainably be used for and its physical limitations.
7. Education & Training
i. Embed the science and understanding of soil and good soil care into the further and higher education curricula for agriculture and other land-based courses.
ii. Introduce a nationwide programme of supported advice in good soil management and soil monitoring to existing land-based workers.
iii. Develop a professional body for farmers, other agricultural workers and agronomists that will set standards, develop career pathways and recognise competences in knowledge, understanding and practices relating to good environmental land management.
iv. Address the need for more soil scientists qualified at degree and postgraduate level.
Increase collaborative working at all levels by engaging organisations who play a part in land-related work, whether in the NGO, government, professional, industry/other private and education sectors.
Extend the understanding of and appreciation for soil beyond the farming, horticulture and land-management communities to include other relevant professional bodies, such as those involved in urban soil use and the general public.